Chupe de mariscos (Shellfish stew)

The other day it hit me:  I only have two months left in Chile!  Aah!  Now I have to go have a real life and do adult things!  Nooooo!  Just kidding, I’m going to grad school!  Take that, real life!

Then I was hit by something else:  A desire to get to know Chile as well as I can in my remaining weeks, starting with the food.  Well, starting with a little town called Pomaire.

I went to Pomaire last year as part of a field trip for a Chilean culture class I took and found it to be too charming for words.  The entire town is filled with artisan potters who used a special kind of clay called “greda.”  It’s a dark, rich, brown clay that makes beautiful, sturdy pottery.  And it is CHEAP.  I bought these bowls and spoons for about $5.  Total.

The beauty of these bowls is that they’re strong enough to be put in the oven so you can cook individual portions inside them.  Mostly they are used for something called “pastel de choclo” which is a baked sweet corny meaty dish (coming soon) and chupe de mariscos. Chupe de mariscos is a shellfish stew with the consistency of oatmeal.  I know that description made it sound disgusting but trust me, if you’re a seafood lover you’ll love this dish.  My Chilean host mother made it for me last year and I fell in love.

I had absolutely no idea how to make this dish so I had to consult a recipe, here it is: http://www.terra.cl/gournet/index.cfm?pagina=recetas&id_receta=95

For those of you who can’t read Spanish, here’s the recipe in English.

32 oz. mixed shellfish (without their shells.  You can use crab, clams, scallops or anything you like)

2 onions

2 cloves of garlic

1 1/2 cups of milk

2 cups of bread crumbs

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil

The onions need tending to first.  Chop them up very fine and fry them in a little oil until they’re transparent.  Once they’re transparent add a little bit of boiling water to the frying pan and let it boil for less than a minute, then rinse the onions with cold water directly after.  This is so the onions don’t “repeat on themselves.”  (That’s what it says in Spanish but if I’m being honest I have no idea what that means.)  Set the onions aside.

Add your mariscos (shellfish) to a large pot on low heat.  Next add the garlic cloves (I like to smash them with the side of a knife to release the flavor) and the onions to the pot.  Add the milk and stir.  Keep an eye on the concoction and stir frequently, because you don’t want it to burn.  Once the mixture is just starting to boil take the garlic cloves out (unless you don’t mind biting into a clove, which I personally don’t) and add the bread crumbs and cheese.  If the mixture is too thick (you want it to be about the texture of cream of wheat or creamy mashed potatoes) add some boiling water and continue stirring.  Once it’s the texture you want it to be, preheat your oven to about 400 degrees.  If you have a setting where the heat only comes from the top of the oven, turn that setting on.

This is where my super cool Pomaire bowls come in.  If you don’t have bowls from a tiny town in Chile, don’t worry, all you need is something that can withstand the heat of the oven.  Portion the mixture evenly into the bowls and top with a layer of parmesan cheese.  Put the bowls in the oven until the cheese has nice browned on the top, probably about ten minutes.  Take the bows out and you have four individual little meals!  How perfect is that?